Millennial demand drives higher ed badging expansion

You don't need a whole degree to learn to fly or fix a drone

Almost all U.S. colleges and universities now award certificates, digital badges and other forms of microcredentials so students can quickly show an employer specialized skills they’ve acquired.

Driving this fast-growing trend are workforce millennials who want to learn, for instance, how to operate an Amazon delivery drone or repair a self-driving car without having to earn another degree, says James Fong, director of the Center for Research and Marketing Strategy at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association.

A generation immersed in social media, millennials are also drawn to the gamified aspect of collecting and displaying digital badges, says Fong, who recently completed a study on the growing influence of microcredentials in higher ed.

“If an institution is good at tech, I think badging will advance faster,” Fong said. “At small, private liberal arts schools—which didn’t embrace online education as quickly—the need for badging might not be as high.”

Stony Brook University on Long Island in New York has awarded 130 badges in its school of professional development since launching them just over a year ago. Most of the badges have gone to working professionals in HR management and higher ed administration.

“You may be waiting two or four years years to earn a degree, but you’re developing skills and knowledge along the way—badges make this knowledge visible,” says Ken Lindblom, interim dean for the School of Professional Development.

Badges earned are posted to an internal online platform. The students can add them to a resume or share them on social media; LinkedIn and Twitter are the most popular platforms at Stony Brook. When employers click on the badge, they are shown a detailed description of the skills and competencies developed.

Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland has adapted its badge program to workforce needs. The college, in the last two years, has awarded hundreds of badges to students who have mastered various casino skills—such as blackjack dealing, says Charlene Templeton, the
assistant dean for continuing education.

The college has also granted about 140 badges in its English as a second language program. The badges give students an extra level of motivation to complete courses—the college has seen a jump in enrollment from its beginning to its intermediate ESL classes, she says.

“You can present an employer with a rÁ©sumÁ© and it shows what you have collectively done over the years. But a badge shows there are specific things you have achieved.”

Badging breakdown

Fields in which most badges have been issued:  

  • Business
  • Technology
  • Education
  • Health care

94%: Institutions offering alternative credentials

1 in 5: Colleges and universities that issue badges

Nearly 2/3: Institutions that cited alternative credentials as an important strategy for the future.

-Source: “Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials,” University Professional and Continuing Education Association and Pearson, 2016

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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